How-to Project Initiation

Learn How To Write S.M.A.R.T. Project Objectives (With Examples)

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Here’s how the discussion about project objectives starts:

Client: I want more leads and better brand recognition.

Me: Those are some great goals!

Also me: Hey Team! We have the goals—now we can put together the project objectives.

My team: *groan* Okay….

Where do you go from there?

That’s what I’ll show you in this post. I’ll give you a crash course in all things project objectives: definitions, examples, how to write an objective and dive into those pesky (yet wonderful) smart objectives.

What Are Project Objectives?

Project Objectives - Featured Image

A project objective is a statement that describes the “what” of your project. The tangible and measurable “what”. The “what” that’s achievable, realistic, and can be completed within the time allowed. These statements ladder up to the goals of the project, providing stepping stones to success.

Why Are Project Objectives Important?

Project objectives are the guideposts when making decisions throughout the lifespan of the project. They communicate project purpose in clear, tangible morsels.

Just as with personal goals, having clear objectives for our projects is the first step in moving from where we are to where we want to be.

Have you ever set the goal to “be healthier” as a new years’ resolution? How successful were you? This is a much more achievable and measurable goal if we add some details. For example:

  • I will go to the gym (a class, by myself or go for a substantial walk) at least 3 times a week for 4 months straight.

or

  • I will eat a homemade dinner four of seven nights a week for 2 months.

It’s important to have well-defined project objectives that all stakeholders review and agree to. You need these objectives at project initiation and you’ll reference them throughout the lifecycle of the project. This is true for agile, waterfall, scrumfall, wagile or whatever project methodology combination you’re using. We project managers use them throughout every step of the project as a guidepost to make sure we’re doing right by our project and by our client.

Project objectives can also help CYA (Cover Your Ass) when the client decides to pivot on you (of course, a well-written Statement of Work helps CYA, too).

Project Goals vs. Project Objectives: Aren’t They The Same Thing?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: while they relate to one another, the goals and objectives serve different purposes. The goal is usually a high level target set by the business which is the underlying driver behind a project (and how they put the budget towards it). The objective is the detailed outline of the big picture of the project. Imagine a connect the dot diagram, the goals are the dots but the objectives are the numbers. The objectives help direct you to the end result of the project.

Here are some goal vs. objective examples:

Project Objectives - Goal vs Objectives

Goal Objectives
Improved Leads An increase of form completions by 5% in the first quarter.

Implement validation to improve the quality of the leads captured in the forms decreasing the number of false data by 10% in the first year.

Better UX Users can get to high profile content in three clicks or less.

The website will be inclusive and should meet WCAG2.1AA by 2020.

SIDENOTE:

If you’re in a place where you need to set goals before you can set objectives, here are some killer tips for project managers on setting goals.

How To Identify The Right Project Objectives

While having objectives is important, having the right project objectives is the true key to success.

If your internal dialogue goes something like this, you’re doing it right:

  • Do I really want to increase page views by 20%? Or is it more valuable to increase quality leads by 5%?
  • Is time on the page important? Or does that mean our users can’t find what they’re looking for?
  • Is it more valuable to make sure key information is always available within a maximum number of clicks? Is it more valuable to increase use of search? Or would that mean our information isn’t easy to find?
  • Are form completes important on a page? Or is it more important to drive users to supporting content?

Notice how, in each example, you’re questioning what you’re measuring. Over the course of many, many, projects I’ve had a lot of goal repetition because of “industry” standards. Those common benchmarks might not make sense for your project and it’s important to question your knee-jerk decisions and think strategically about the goals you set.

Here is an example showing the questions you can ask to find the right project objectives:

  • Increasing page views by xx%
    • Is that more valuable than an increase in quality leads by 5%?
    • Are page views important if bounce rates are high?
    • Should we be looking to decrease bounce rates instead?

But what if you can’t answer these questions? Well, your team members and clients probably can, or they can provide valuable insight that will help you fill in the holes.

Remember: writing project objectives shouldn’t fall solely on the project manager. Defining goals and objectives of the project should start as early as possible. Ideally you’ll see some goal definition in the RFP, but you’ll really dive into the definition of objectives in the kickoff. It’s important that you talk these through with the team and stakeholders to make sure you’re defining the right objectives.

How to Set S.M.A.R.T. Project Objectives

I could hammer the importance of a project objective until the cows come home (or until the client provides final copy… haha) but it’s also important you know how to write an objective. This brings us to the S.M.A.R.T. concept.

Other than being a super convenient to remember anagram, the S.M.A.R.T. approach to writing objectives helps lay the groundwork to make sure you’ve got everything you need for a clearly laid out.

Project Objectives - How To Be Smart

What Does S.M.A.R.T. Stand For?

The S.M.A.R.T. acronym stands for:

  • S=Smart
  • M=Measurable
  • A=Achievable
  • R=Realistic
  • T=Time-bound

And here’s what each part means:

Specific

Make sure your objective is clearly defined. Narrow your scope of the objective so that is has a very tangible and specific outcome. This helps you focus your intent. When writing this part of the objective think of the Who, What, Where, When and Why of it all.

Measurable

Make sure you can actually quantify the objective. If it’s not measurable, you won’t know when the project objective has been met. You want to make sure the objective is trackable to keep you and the team accountable.

Achievable

Make sure you can accomplish the objective. Identify the clear steps that need to happen to make sure the objective is completed. When writing this portion of the objective as yourself how you will accomplish it? What steps need to be taken in order to accomplish the specific objective you’ve defined?

Realistic

This one is really important. Don’t set objectives that can’t be achieved within the constraints of the project. Make sure your objective is practical.  Do you have the budget to do this? Is there enough time? Does your team have the right knowledge or do you have time to invest in learning?

Time-Bound

When will this be done by? Having a clear end date defined helps everybody involved. It lets you know when you need to focus on that objective. It also helps you set a relationship between multiple objectives on a project as well. If you can’t do objective C until A is done and A is getting done in Q1, then you should have C completed in Q2.

Tips For Using The S.M.A.R.T. Framework

Aside from abiding by the smart objective approach, you should also follow some other best practices when writing your project objectives.

  1. Use plain, simple language. You’re not trying to assert your dominance of the English language (or whichever language you’re writing your objectives in). It should be quickly scannable and understood.
  2. Use action words when describing the specific goal. You should be doing or achieving something.
  3. User numbers to quantify your objectives and dates. Don’t be afraid of our friends 123456789 and 0.

Now, if i’m being honest, I have struggled with writing smart objectives in the past. I always understood the value but had a hard time actually putting the objectives together. Luckily, I have had the opportunity to work with some awesome people and one of them (unfortunately I can’t remember who to name drop here) wrote their project objectives in a table and I have never looked back.

Examples Of S.M.A.R.T. Objectives

Project Objectives - Smart Project Objectives ExamplesHere are a few sample objectives both project and life related to get your brain juices going.

By December 2019, our Jr. Designer and Jr. Developer will have used their 4 extra hours per week to launch a website with 5 pages and 1 form, coming to a total of $3,000.

Specific Measurable Achievable Realistic Time-bound
I will launch a website for $3,000 dollars. The website will have 5 pages and 1 form. I’ll allocate 100 hours for a Jr. Designer and Jr. Developer at blended rate of $30/hour to stay within budget. Our Jr. Developer and Jr. Designer each have 4 hours per week available to work on the project and have done similar projects for $3,000. By December 2019
I will get a raise at work. I will set clear objectives and measure my progress against them through the year. I will achieve this by staying focused, working hard and proving and documenting my value. I will participate in professional development courses and volunteer for project opportunities that will allow for growth throughout the year. For my next annual review, in one year’s time.

I find the table helpful for organizing my thoughts, but if you do prefer writing out a sentence don’t feel constrained by the order of S.M.A.R.T.  I like to start my project objective statement with the time-bound element. “By March..” or “in three months time…” It helps frame the statement I’m trying to make, but this is 100% a personal preference.

More Examples Of S.M.A.R.T. Project Objectives

I’ve already listed out a few project objectives examples above but I’d like to hammer home the benefit with a few more.

Project Objectives Example

  • Instead of: I want to finish more projects on budget.
  • Try: I will get involved in the estimation process, track budget daily, and communicate budget concerns to my teams in our daily meeting to get my next 3 projects to finish within a +/- 10% range of the original estimate.
  • Instead of: Improve the site’s user experience.
  • Try: We will reduce the number of clicks it takes for a user to reach the highest traffic page that the majority of our website users regularly visit (the member directory) from any point on the site to 2 clicks or less by the end of our design phase on June 1st.
  • Instead of: More form completes.
  • Try: We will increase the number of qualified leads (as confirmed by SalesForce) by 5% by reducing the required fields in the form by the end of Q3.
  • Instead of: Accessible website.
  • Try: We will build the website to meet WCAG 2.1 AA standards, that will be thoroughly tested against the criteria and is deployed to production by May 2020.

Plus, you might be able to steal one for your professional development planning this year!

  • Instead of: I want a good review this year
  • Try: By March 2020 I want to increase my annual review score from a 3 to a 4 by completing one course (the DPM school), reading one book and committing to spend on average 1 hour a week on professional growth.

Onwards And Upwards!

If you write your project objectives well, they’ll help your projects succeed by providing clear, easy-to-understand expectations for your clients, along with concrete objectives that your teams can easily break down into tasks and steps.

About to kick-off a project? Try out the smart table in this article for setting up your objectives, and let me know if that helps!

And finally, how do you write objectives on your projects? Share your insights with the digital PM community by commenting with your project objectives below.

Mackenzie Dysart

Mackenzie Dysart

I'm a PMP and CSM certified project manager extraordinaire with over 5 years of experience. I’m a bit of a unicorn as I actually chose to be a PM as a career path. My focus has been on digital projects but I have also worked in print and app development. My experience is on both client and agency side. I work with people who are passionate and help them deliver awesome!